Holding on to Spiritual and Cultural Traditions

Spiritual and Cultural Traditions

Despite the great loss of traditional culture that occurred as a result of settlement on the reservation, the people of the Warm Springs Reservation have succeeded in holding on to many of our ancient traditions and values. Our longhouses still ring with prayer songs that have been handed down for generations. Traditional feasts are still held each year. Indian languages are still spoken, and the old legends of Coyote and the other Animal People still told.

Regardless of our success in the present, the people of Warm Springs realize that we must hold on to our past and bring it into the future lest the spiritual and cultural values that sustained our people for centuries be lost.


Prior to settling on the Reservation, natural food resources were so plentiful that agriculture was unnecessary for the three tribes of the Warm Springs Reservation. Salmon from the nearby Columbia was a staple for the Wasco and Warm Springs bands. The high-plains Paiutes depended more on deer and other large game. All three tribes took advantage of assorted roots, fruits, and other plant-life.

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Since gathering and preparing food was a substantial part of daily life for the three tribes, their methods became as much a part of the tribal culture as the foods themselves. Salmon were hauled out of the Columbia with long-handled dip nets. Roots were pulled from the ground with specialized digging sticks, or kapns.

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Berries were gathered in ornate baskets. After centuries of trial and error, these methods were perfected and became second nature.

Many of these foods and the methods of obtaining them are still an important part of life on the Warm Springs Reservation. Roots are dug from early spring through late summer. Fruits, especially huckleberries, are harvested summer and fall. Hunting and fishing occur year round. These foods are highly prized, and are a significant part of the many special festivals and rituals as well as part of the regular Indian diet.

Annually the Warm Springs Indians observe three religious feasts of giving thanks based on important native foods.

  • The Root Feast (Xnit Sapálwit) in the spring recognizes the first appearance of many important roots.
  • The First Catch (Nusux Sapálwit), or Salmon Feast, in the spring recognizes the migration of salmon.
  • The Huckleberry Feast (Wiwinu Sapálwit) in early fall recognizes the ripening of the first berries.
  • The Celery Feast (Latitlatit Sapálwit) celebrated in the month of February which recognizes the first foods of the year in.


Despite extensive efforts, the three languages of the Confederated Tribes of Warm Springs Oregon are in danger of becoming lost languages.

The Kiksht (Wasco), only have five fluent speakers, all elders, left in our area. The Numu (Paiute), have only five fluent speakers, and the Ichishkiin (Sahaptin) have about fifty speakers. There are no fluent speakers under the age of fifty. It is extremely important for the Warm Springs people to come together and strive for our languages to again become the first languages of our children.

The Tribal Language Program has taken various steps to bring language back to the community. We believe that it is up to the people of the community to develop a true commitment and the desire to revive and maintain our languages.

Language is a solemn thing, it grows out of life, out of its agonies, and its ecstasies, its wants and its weariness. Every language is a temple in which the soul of those who speak it is enshrined.” — Oliver Wendell Holmes